Seat's Ibiza is now available as an estate. The new car joins the established three-door and five-door hatchback versions, and Seat says this means that the current model is available with a wider range of body styles than any previous Ibiza. Strictly speaking, this is true, although that's only because the saloon and estate versions of the second-generation car were badged as Cordobas.

Since Seat last bowed out of the small estate market in 2002, Skoda has continued to build estate versions of its Fabia, while alternatives such as the Renault Clio estate have appeared, not to mention a whole generation of mini-MPVs such as the Renault Modus and Nissan Note, so this new car faces plenty of stiff competition.

On the other hand, the Ibiza ST (or sport tourer) makes a strong case for itself. The hatchback Ibiza is one of the prettiest small cars on the market and Seat has done well to turn it into a fairly roomy and practical estate (it can swallow 430 litres of luggage with the rear seats in place and 1164 with them folded) without ruining its looks.

I drove an ST fitted with the Volkswagen group's familiar 1.6-litre common-rail diesel engine, which provides much smoother and quieter performance than previous VW diesels. It delivers great economy (67.3 mpg on the official combined cycle test), and also rather better real-world performance than its modest claimed performance figures suggest. The other engine options are known quantities too, and include VW's 1.2 litre three cylinder diesel and 1.2-litre four-cylinder turbocharged which work well in other cars, although you can't always assume that engines will always transplant well, so it's always worth trying the particular body/motor combination in which you are interested.

Given that the Ibiza shares so many parts with other models produced by Volkswagen group companies, which one you choose is, to a large extent, a matter of taste. If you are looking for an estate, you can eliminate the Volkswagen Polo and the Audi A1 from your short list because they are only available as hatchbacks, leaving the Ibiza ST to go head-to-head with the Skoda Fabia estate, a contest in which I think it probably comes out on top.

Skoda probably has the edge over Seat across the range – the latest Superb saloon and Yeti crossover have been very well received – but in the Polo bracket Seat's strongest car meets what is probably Skoda's weakest, scoring a lot of points with its sportier styling and more imaginative interior. On the other hand, if you don't mind something that's a bit staider to drive, and need rather more space than either the Ibiza ST or Fabia estate can offer, it's probably worth looking at Skoda's Roomster, which pairs a Fabia front-end with a boxier rear and the usual Volkswagen drive-train options.

The new Ibiza ST is unlikely to transform Seat's position in the UK – the excellent new Alhambra is much more likely to do that. But it provides more solid evidence that the company, which struggled for many years to define itself clearly, not least against Skoda within the Volkswagen group, has finally found its way.

Price: £14,430 (SE), £14,730 (Sport)

Top speed: 117 mph

0-62 mph: 10.9 seconds

Consumption: 67.3 mpg

CO2 emissions: 109g/km

Also worth considering: Skoda Fabia estate, Renault Clio estate.

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